Friday, 26 February 2016

Avoid RTL dongle Rip-Offs


Unscrupulous sellers on Ebay and other online marketplaces charge an unjustifiably large excess due to the increased popularity of RTL dongles.
This is due to 1) unsuspecting buyers, 2) lack of information and 3) prosperity of developed nations. An extra 5-6 dollars won't break the bank when the median US household income in 2015 was in excess of 50,000 dollars. 
At the other end of the scale, over 2 billion (write it down: that's more than 2,000,000,000 individuals) live on less than $3.10 a day.

Money does matter.


This post serves primarily as background information for prospective readers of the upcoming RTL-SDR Guide book, and in connection with the previously published review of RTL dongles - products featured in that post are available from other sources, so it's relevant information.
Seller's names are removed from printscreens.


1. Selling Brands at a higher price (plus high shipping charges)


Ordering directly from the manufacturer will definitely mean that warranty will be honored, and you get customer support via email and / or phone.
As of February 2016, the two best-known companies are Nooelec and RTL-SDR.com. Both have an online store, both stores are easy to use, both offer Credit Card and Paypal payment options - why would anyone use an online marketplace for brand name RTL dongles?



Exactly the same model as in the 5-dongle comparison review, standard R820T chipset, no temperature controlled oscillator. Same accessories. Total cost: over $50. Nooelec cost: $22.95 ($17.95 + $5 International Tracked Shipping).

It's not only one seller, let's buy an R820T2, it is better and the one to get.
.
Ripoff Total: $53.69. Manufacturer Total: $26.95. Enough? No? 
Check out RTL-SDR.com's Silver dongle:



Ripoff total: $50.16. Manufacturer total: $19.95, free worldwide shipping from China. Oh, only dongle for 50 bucks, no antennas. This is not as clear-cut as the other two, as the Silver dongle was out of stock for a while due to high demand, and shipping from the States is always more expensive than shipping from China. 
Khmm, somehow Nooelec manages $5 for tracked shipping...

And to close the argument:


Ripoff Total: $86.4. Manufacturer total: $24.99. Case closed.




Conclusion: If buying a brand-name RTL dongle, always buy directly from the manufacturer!!!



2. The fake E4000 ads


The E4000 chipset was used in the earliest  RTL dongles - until the manufacturer went out of business. Due to rarity and price - once selling for over $100 - it is a sort of "cult" stick, the holy grail, the magic USB device pulling in signals across the globe etc (Review soon).
The only source for a brand new E4000 chipset right now is from Nooelec, $42.95 in non-TCXO flavor or $49.95 for the TCXO-equipped version. Check out the real deal on the image - if the dongle you bought does not have the Elonics E4000 chip as illustrated, you've been conned.
Common words in the title are "E4000 upgrade" and "successor upgrade". Upon closer inspection the title also reveals that R820T, or maybe an R820T2 is used, costing anything up to $20 or more.
Real-looking E4000 chipsets can be found, will be expensive: 50 dollars is more than Nooelec charges for an equivalent version, which come with 1-year warranty.
[And peace of mind. I received the E4000 TCXO above with the other dongles featured in the 5-dongle review, but the actual dongle did not function properly. Nooelec customer support returned my email with "it's probably damaged in transit, we'll send you another". Try that with an Ebay seller.]


3. Shiny and expensive


I have not tested the product below, and will retract this statement the very second the manufacturer sends me a review sample and proves me wrong, but $59.99 for an old-generation R820T in an aluminum housing is simply too much, even with TCXO. Probably the housing is milled from a solid piece of a aircraft-grade aluminium, or features a built-in coffee maker.




To get prices in perspective, RTL-SDR.com's metal housing is rock solid (took the PCB out and stood on the empty case, no trouble), offers the better R820T2 chipset and costs 19.99 shipped. On the other side of the fence, top-of-the-line Blue Nooelec with a Nooelec metal case (review soon) will set you back $40 with 2-year warranty.


4. The ADS-B magnet

Airplane tracking is getting more and more popular, so adding ADSB to the title will be a customer magnet. And increases price.



At least some of the RTL dongles above feature the newer and better R820T2 chipset. At least.
Combining ADS-B with magic words for the unwary:

OTG means On-The-Go, which is a USB standard. If you have an OTG-capable device and a cable, you can use any USB thingy - that includes the RTL stick. The item does not even come with an OTG cable.
$29.99 is way too much.
ADSB antenna: basically a shorter version of the stock antenna, cut to be quarter-wave at 1090 MHz. Quarter-wave for ADSB is 6.8cm, so snip off a few cm/inches from a stock antenna and you're there.

OK I got the point! I only have less than $10 - what should I buy?


An RTL dongle for less than $10, with free shipping from China (or domestic if you get a good deal). Spending more than 20 dollars is  absolutely unnecessary, unless you need fancy extras like TCXO, willing to pay more for brand names or absolutely have to own an E4000 tuner.
Try to find the newer R820T2 chipset, several examples available for a maximum of 8 dollars. For example, search for R820T2 and get the following for seven dollars
I've written extensively about what you can achieve with this this no-frills setup and some ingenuity in my upcoming book.




You get an usable magnetic antenna base and a small antenna with an R820T2 tuner. 
Ten dollars is quite a lot for literally billions of people, but at least now you know that 's all you need to spend to get started without getting ripped off.



If you enjoyed this article please pre-order my RTL-SDR
Guide Book on Amazon Kindle. More than a hundred pages of knowledge, information and diagrams for all levels of expertise.

Kindle is available for computers (Windows and Mac), and for smartphones and tablets (Android and Iphone, iPad and iPod touch).


If you're interested in the Raspberry Pi, please sign up for the upcoming book, which details the ins and outs of setting up, using and enjoying the Pi 3 microcomputer.



















3 comments:

  1. amazon says its a bad page, and link failed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. for the RTL-SDR kindle book

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    2. Thanks very much, looks like sorted now.
      Blogger motor is going haywire at times, the link with the book image reliably works, if not here's the link to Amazon Pre-order:
      http://www.amazon.com/RTL-SDR-Everyone-Second-including-Raspberry-ebook/dp/B01C9KZKAI/

      Delete